There are few moments in history where a single individual unites an entire country. 40 years ago today was the start of that moment for Canada. On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope. A cross-country quest to help find a cure for cancer. The bone cancer of osteosarcoma may have taken Terrys leg, but it did not take away his heart. He had a dream as large as Canada, and he was going to run across the entire country to reach it. What started out as a crazy idea, captured the attention of Canadians. This 21 year old amputee captivated the entire country. This was no longer a crazy idea. This made complete sense, and Canadians from coast to coast ran right behind him in spirit.
Terry was my favourite Canadian hero. He made me proud to be a Canadian. He represented qualities Canada is known for. Courage, Bravery, Determination, Hard working, Humble, and Hopeful. Terry became more than a Canadian hero. He became a global icon. Over the past 40 years, his story has been told countless times. So I am not going to focus too much on it. Instead, I want to find out if Terry had a faith and relationship with Jesus? If there is any way of finding out, it would have to be through Leslie Scriveners book, Terry Fox: His Story. Through Terrys diaries and Scriveners interviews with him and his family, this book could be the most comprehensive source to help us answer that question. To show how old this book is, and how long it has taken for me to read it, I am reading the 20th anniversary edition 20 years later.
Scrivener was a young journalist that became the eyes and ears of Terrys journey. She had the most rare and fortunate opportunity when the Toronto Star newspaper assigned her to cover Terry Foxs Marathon of Hope. This was not just a one time basis. This was a weekly basis. The Toronto Star was the first newspaper to cover Terrys progress in this way. This gave Scrivener a perspective that nobody else had. Her writing gives us a deep definitive look into both Terrys journey and his life.
But did Terry have a personal relationship with God? Well, there are some surprising insights. Terry meets a devout Christian woman by the name of Rika Noda. They had feelings for one another and started talking about Gods love. She shared her faith and how God died for all of mankind. What they discovered about one another is that while Terry went to Sunday school as a child, Rika was sent to a Buddhist temple. She eventually attended Christian services, became a Christian at the age of nine, and developed a relationship with God.
Terry did not like the television Christians with the perfect hair, clothes, and smiles. He was not into that style of Christianity, but he was into the Christianity Rika lived out. It was warm and friendly. Rika never pushed her faith onto Terry, but her strong feelings towards him hoped that Terry would find that same relationship. Also, as a Christian, she knew it was not wise for her to date a man who did not embrace Christ the way she did. Terry was drawn to Rika and attended her church. She encouraged Terry to read the Bible which he did.
While Terry was walking on this spiritual path with Rika, it was interesting to learn that none of his friends were active believers. His parents were not churchgoers. He shares, I worried about what my family thought. Even if I wanted to change my life, none of my friends was interested in it, and I couldnt forget about them all. I couldnt block them out. I wanted them. Yet I almost felt I had to do that block them out to devote myself to it. Its always difficult to be different from the norm. To me, just starting to read the Bible was different from what anyone else in my family was doing.
Because of Terrys decision to train for his run across Canada, his time with Rika was put on hold. Even though Terry offered Rika to join him on his journey, she declined. Based on the wisdom of her pastor, the optics would not look good living in such close quarters to a man she was not married to. This not only strained Terrys relationship with Rika, but limited his time to further pursue a relationship with God.
Terry had a dream of raising $1 from every Canadian ($24 million) for cancer research.
Between Scriveners writing and Terrys words, you understand and feel the grind Terry endured. You feel like you are in that van every day watching Terry go through the emotional, physical, and psychological stress. He ran about 42 km which would be 26 miles a day. That is equal to running a marathon every single day. He did it all on one good leg. Some people cant even run that distance with two good legs. Also his prosthetic leg was built with limited and under-developed technology. It was not built in a way to handle the workload of a cross-country marathon. This caused immense pain, discomfort, and even bleeding at times. But Terry viewed his pain in a much different way.
He says, People thought I was going through hell. Maybe I was, partly, but still I was doing what I wanted and a dream was coming true and that, above everything else, made it all worthwhile to me. Even though it was so difficult, there was not another thing in the world I would rather have been doing. I got satisfaction out of doing things that were difficult. It was an incredible feeling. The pain was there, but the pain didnt matter. But thats all a lot of people could see; they couldnt see the good that I was getting out of it myself.
Terry ran two thirds across Canada in 143 days at a distance of 3,339 miles. But on September 1 1980, east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that 3,339th mile would be his last.
The Marathon of Hope did not end the way Canada wanted, but maybe it was the ending Canada needed. That interview clip alone sparked an explosive response by Canadians. In the same furious pace Terry ran, so too did the funds for cancer research. In a nationwide telethon, the CTV network raised over 10 million dollars. That staggering amount was mind blowing. Especially considering the internet did not even exist. There was no social media, no online crowdfunding, and no live streams. Even though Terry did not complete his marathon, he felt he had already won. Cancer was no longer a mystery. As Terry stated, People are really going to know what cancer is.
On February 1981, $24.17 million was raised for cancer research. Terry's dream came true.
As the donations continued to pour in across Canada, Terry had more time to reflect on his life. Scrivener reveals how Terry spoke more about his faith. He admitted to her that it was difficult to tell a room full of reporters that he believed in God. He still felt that he was in the woods and wanted to become closer to God. He goes on to say, I think of the world and whats going on. Because man has gone through so much death, killing, stealing, I dont think man can do it on his own. Its obvious whats going to happen on this earth unless man changes. I, for one, need something to grab on to, to hold on to. I havent been told Im going to die of cancer. When that happens, I want to have so much faith I wont have any fears at all.
Terrys faith also gave him perspective of his situation. He shares with Scrivener that, I believe that God planned what happened. There was a reason for what happened to me in Thunder Bay. Right now Im going to fight as hard as I can to beat cancer. If I do, if I come back from this and finish running across Canada, it will be the greatest comeback I ever made.
It was not until the second last page of this book, that Scrivener records a quote from Terry that gives even more compelling insight on his faith in God. He says, I dont care what percentages the doctor tells me I have. If God is true, I know I've got 100 per cent, if that's what He has in His plans for me. And if I really believe and if God is really there, then I'm not going to lose even if I die, because it's supposed to be the pearly gates I'm going through, and if heaven is there, I can't lose out. It's something I have a lot of faith in, and I've got to be as strong as I can and I've got to believe it. The situation I'm in right now, I could be down, I could be depressed, I could be out of it, I could be feeling sorry for myself, all of this, but I've got to have hope.
The first annual Terry Fox run began September 13, 1981.
As of 2020, nearly $800 million has been raised for cancer research.
When it comes to Terrys parents Betty and Rolly, they reflected on how God worked through Terrys life. Their views were in stark contrast. Betty said, I think what kept Him going was a power greater than any of us. He was given to Rolly and I to raise and was destined to do what he did. I believe that in my heart. I couldn't have said that twenty years ago. Rolly on the other hand says, I don't understand, if there is a God, why he would take somebody like Terry, when there are so many bad people in the world. Terry had so much to live for and was such a good person. You asked me if I was bitter. I was and I still am. I'd rather have Terry here.
Terrys longtime friend Doug Alward, who drove the van all those days during the Marathon of Hope also shared his view. Doug believes, The whole thing is miraculous, God selecting Terry for his destiny in life. I think God planned it. I know he doesn't want people to get sick, but God will use tragedy to bring something good, and Terry knew it was something phenomenal.
The one area that is absent from this book is the closure of Terry and Rikas relationship after the Marathon of Hope. Scrivener does mention they saw each other occasionally. He continued to pray and read the New Testament. Scrivener also provides Rikas thoughts about Terry after his death. But there were few details beyond that. It is obvious they did not get married. But there is no more context or discussion recorded between the two. In an article of The Beacon Herald, author Bruce Woods shares Rikas perspective from his years attending the same church with her. The article states how, According to Woods, a conflict between Noda and the Fox family has, for the most part, kept much of Nodas relationship with Fox out of mainstream retellings of his story.
Woods provides some insight into Terry and Rikas relationship with his book, The Legacy of Terry Fox and John Morton. Much of the insight comes from his extensive discussions with Rika. A very interesting piece of information shared is Terrys devotion to Rika. Woods says, Terry Fox was not a Christian and he wanted to marry Rika, but she said, Id never marry anybody if theyre not a Christian. So that resulted in Terry Fox reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelations in one year. Not everybody does that. Woods also mentions, I want people to know that Terry Fox, though he didnt go to church very often because he was preoccupied with his run, went occasionally with Rika and he professed his Christianity.
Terry Fox: His Story is the most definitive biography of his life. Scriveners access to his friends, family, and journey is incomparable. Her writing had me immersed as the pages flew by. It was shocking for me to learn of the impact Rika had on Terrys life. She was a major influence in Terrys desire to embrace Christianity. There is no question Terry believed in God. But because his life was cut way too short, we may never know how close Terry was with Jesus. What if Terry did beat cancer? What if Terry did finish his Marathon of Hope? What if Terry did marry Rika? What if Terry did speak about Jesus to others? There will always be more hypothetical questions than answers. What we do know is you can no longer remove God out of the equation of Terrys life. He ran the race and kept the faith. Now it's our turn.
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